I have been wrestling with this question my whole teenage and adult life. When I was younger, it was pretty obvious that I had to try to be better, prettier, thinner, funnier, smarter, nicer, more attractive etc, etc. I used to write out endless self-improvement lists, create impossible new timetables of habits I wanted to introduce, research and print out diets and exercise plans, print out visualization pictures and stick them to my wardrobe and spend more money than I could afford on products to help me achieve my goals. A few weeks in and everything would crumple. I never did quite manage to learn to create a new habit. The only lifestyle change I ever managed to keep was that of becoming a vegetarian at the age of 24. The reason that this stuck is that cutting out meat was a natural progression that came so intrinsically from within that it was effortless to stick to.
I’m now 28 years old and just spent over 400 euro on personal training with no results. I guess its finally time to learn the lesson thats been slapping me in the face for over 15 years…except I can’t quite figure out what it is. This costly experience, as a more mature person, showed me that I have to finally admit that something is not right in this repetitive failed battle for weight-loss and health. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I have to finally admit that this is whats going on and that the solution is not external. Its not the healthy groceries or the exercise plan that makes this journey successful. Its the switch inside that needs to turn on and really decide this is what I want.
The trouble is that I’m not sure its what I want. I mean of course, I’d love to be skinny and hot but it seems I’m not willing to be that at the expense of continuous sacrifice for the sake of appearance. I lost two friends at a very young age and I think their loss effected the way I live my life so tremendously and wonderfully because I feel like I don’t sweat the little stuff and closeness with death has given me perspective about life. I want to live, live big and in their honor. I cannot imagine saying no to pizza or going to bed hungry or having only one glass of wine all because of the calories. Its feels silly and superficial. Having said that, being overweight means being unhealthy and if I really have perspective then that means I would understand that health comes first. And in theory, I believe this wholeheartedly – you can do anything you want to do, as long as you are healthy. I guess the trouble is I don’t feel unhealthy yet and it is more the societal pressures of looking a certain way that bother the crap out of me. Thats why I think in reality, I must be kind of okay with who I am. I still swim in my bikini and while I don’t look down and love my body, I don’t look down and hate it either. Its mine, my body, the one I live with every day and I guess I’m used to it. Its other people’s judgement of it that upset me and I want to scream “let me liveee” when a family member passes a comment about my weight.
As a growing adult in the profession of social work, I am taught over and over about the importance of self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance. Being kinder to oneself, being aware of the voice within – is it overly critical? Is it shaming? In so many ways I am told that I should love myself as I am and that will lead to self-acceptance and self-love which is what life’s journey is about. My therapist tells me that once I love my body, it will fall into its own shape and that I should stand in the mirror naked and tell myself I am beautiful. These past two days I remembered her words. I bathed myself in a warm bath and washed myself with my own bare hands, rubbing soap onto my skin, caressing my arms and legs I usually treat so badly and replacing that with love and appreciation. Today, I went to the beach and instead of shaming myself under the gaze of fellow bathers, I told myself I was beautiful. This afternoon, I cooked myself a nutritious meal because I felt more connected with my body and thats what my body needs. I understood my therapists words a bit more and to be honest, it has felt wonderful.
I know that tomorrow will come and life will get hectic again and I will fall into old patterns and routines. I know the shame is hard-wired inside me and I will wake up, walk to make coffee, feel the jingle of my things and feel some sort of hate. I will then go to brush my teeth and notice the curve of my arms and feel that hateful feeling again. Its so pervasive and subconscious, I almost don’t notice it.
So perhaps it is a problem, just a problem I am used to. Perhaps I should find my motivation in health, not image. Perhaps I should start with self-love, not shame. And perhaps loving myself as I am will actually lead to a better me.